Six Algerian Novelists Whose Work Is Shaping Algerian Literature

By Zakia Allal

Samia Ben Driss

Ben Driss’s ‘Maryam’s Tree’

Samia Ben Driss is an Algerian writer who was born in 1971 in Ferdjioua in Mila Province. She received her doctorate from the University of Constantine and is currently a professor at the University Center Abdelhafid Boussouf.

She has published three novels: رائحة الذئب / The Smell of the Wolf in 2015, شجرة مريم / Maryam’s Tree in 2016 and بيت الخريف / The House of Autumn in 2017. She has also authored a short story collection, أطياف شهرزاد / Scheherazade’s Ghosts, which was published in 2016. The novel Maryam’s Tree tells the story of Maryam and charts the paths of her life between the ‘Dark Decade’ of the Civil War during which her sister, her beloved role model, is assassinated, and the brutality of corruption when her husband is killed in a fabricated car accident targeting a corruption-fighting lawyer. This leaves Maryam to shoulder the burden of providing for her family by working in a restaurant. Throughout these events, she moves through confessions, pain, and songs. Maryam, in her travels from her village to Constantine and from there to Sétif, embodies a journey of struggle in which fiction is mixed with reality, stories with myths, and love with times of peace and war.

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Ezzedine Jalaouji

Jalaouji’s ‘The Wailing Wall’

A writer and academic, he is interested in novels and plays creatively as well as in his capacity as a critic and teacher, in addition to writing short stories, children’s literature, and literary criticism. He began his literary activity at an early age; his first works were published in newspapers. His first short story collection was published in 1994 under the title لمن تهتف الحناجر؟ / For Whom Do the Throats Chant?,  followed by novels, plays, short stories, criticism, and children’s literature.

Among his novels are الرماد الذي غسل الماء / The Ashes that Washed the Water, حائط المبكى / The Wailing Wall, and his narrative saga ثلاثية الأرض والريح / Trilogy of the Earth and the Wind.

Some of his theatrical works are: البحث عن الشمس / Searching for the Sun, النخلة وسلطان المدينة / The Palm and the Sultan of the City, أحلام الغول الكبير / Dreams of the Great Ghoul, غنائية الحب والدم / The Song of Love and Blood, مملكة الغراب / The Kingdom of the Raven, الأقنعة المثقوبة / The Pierced Masks, and more.

As for short stories, he issued the following collections: لمن تهتف الحناجر؟ / For Whom Do the Throats Chant?, صهيل الحيرة / The Neigh of Confusion, رحلة البنات إلى النار / The Girls’ Journey to Hell.

He published 11 books in the field of literary criticism and scholarship, including: النص المسرحي في الأدب الجزائري / Theatrical Text in Algerian Literature, الأمثال الشعبية الجزائرية / Algerian Folk Proverbs, المسرحية الشعرية المغاربية / Moroccan Poetic Theater, قراءة في المشهد الشعري / Reading in the Poetic Scene, قراءة في المشهد السردي / Reading in the Narrative Scene, and the thematic criticism في نماذج تطبيقية / On Applied Models.

Ezzedine Jalaouji works to establish his own creative project through a number of characteristics, the most important of which are: working experimentally, focussing on the language (which is a great obsession for the writer), invoking heritage, and diversity in his expressive forms. Jalaouji has worked on establishing a new form of creative writing in terms of theorizing and texts, which he calls “the narration (al-masradiyya),” the rewriting of theatrical texts with a narrative flavour.

Some of his plays made their way to the stage, including: Searching for the Sun, ملحمة أم الشهداء / The Epic of the Martyrs’ Mother , and قلعة الكرامة / Castle of Honor.

His novel The Wailing Wall was published in 2015. It is a work that raises controversies that have strongly impacted interpersonal relations, especially those related to male domination and the restriction of femininity to a narrow scope. The events of the novel start with a murder witnessed by the hero, which is henceforth entrenched in his memory. He is an artist, a painter who loves art and beauty and whose heart is yearning for love. This artist falls in love with Samara, a plastic artist who loves Orani folklore and is a daughter of splendid Oran. Their love results in a marriage, but death separates them, which affects his psyche, so he becomes a mental wreck and resorts to the virtual world to compensate for his loss.

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Nassima Ben Abdallah

Nassima Ben Abdallah

Nassima Ben Abdallah is one of the literary names that has been remarkably positioned in the Algerian creative scene ever since her first short story collection  كلمات تحت الشمس / Words Under the Sun was published by Al-Jahizia in 1999, with her second short story collection published by the Algerian Writers Union in 2004. She has also published in several major Algerian newspapers.

The writings of Nassima Ben Abdallah are distinguished by creative characteristics that combine her bending of storytelling and narrative techniques with features of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern narrative structures.

The novelist Ahmed Khataoui says about her: “The writer Nassima Ben Abdallah is a master in dealing with the manifestations of storytelling in its suggestive contexts, reversing the meaning of form, hinting that she holds the narrative’s cornerstone firmly in hand and controls it, taming the general structure of the story in a smooth style with striking technical design. Or, in other words, with what is called ‘impossible ease’.”

Among her published fictional works are Words Under the Sun, حب في الكف / Love in the Palm of the Hand, أحيا / Revive, and في الجيد لهب / In Good There is a Flame, which was translated into French.

Ben Abdallah’s ‘Revive’

She published two poetry collections in 2021, قطرة حب / A Drop of Love and تغاريد / Taghareed, published by Dar Khayal, as well as a scholarly study, الإعلام الثقافي .. إضاءات في كتابات صالح زايد / Cultural Media: Illuminations in the Writings of Saleh Zayed. Her short story collection Revive was released in 2019. It is a collection that advocates for life and condemns all kinds of killing. We find the heroes of Revive’s stories clinging to life no matter the agony, even if death is close. They resist in order to live on, carrying the slogan “Killing does not end life.” In Revive, we find the spirit of the ancestors and the voice of the homeland.

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Aisha Bennour

Aisha Bennour

The Algerian writer Aisha Bennour has been writing short stories and novels since the end of the 1980s. She studied psychology at the University of Bouzaréah. She wrote as a journalist for many national and Arab newspapers and magazines and contributed articles and studies on women’s and children’s issues. Her works were published in several editions, some of them in other Arab countries and in France. They are also available on online platforms. Some of her novels have been translated into French, English, and Spanish, and many studies have been written about her books. She has participated in national forums and international conferences.

Among her published works are the short story collections سلسلة حكايات جزائرية / A Series of Algerian Tales, الموؤودة تسأل .. فمن يجيب ؟ / The One Who Was Buried Alive Asks… Who Answers?, مخالب / Claws, ليست كباقي النساء / Not Like Other Women and the novels السّوط والصّدى / The Whip and the Echo, اعترافات امرأة / Confessions of a Woman, سقوط فارس الأحلام / The Dream Night’s Fall, نساء في الجحيم / Women in Hell, الزنجية / The Zanjiyya.

Additionally, he has published the studies and non-fiction works نساء يعتنقن الاسلام / Women Embracing Islam and قراءات سيكولوجية في روايات وقصص عربية / Psychological Readings in Arabic Novels and Stories.

She has received many awards and honors, including the first place internationally in the Women’s Literature Competition for the US Writers Union in May 2017, the International Prize for Pioneering Literature and Creativity in India in 2020, and the first place of the International Short Story Prize from the International Organization for Creativity for Peace in London (Wafa Abdul-Razzaq Competition for Intellectual Creativity) in 2020.

 The novel The Zanjiyya delves deep into the wounds of the African female, uncovering the unspoken and breaking into the taboos that hide the human crisis. It opposes racism and violence against girls, and displays another facet of the human suffering experienced by women in South Africa.

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Mourad Boukerzaza

Mourad Boukerzaza

Mourad Boukerzaza is an Algerian writer, novelist, and journalist, born in Constantine in 1963. He earned his degree in law and administration but has been a writer since 1985. He has over 30 years of experience in the broadcasting, cultural, and intellectual fields through working as a director for many local radio stations in Algeria, including Radio Mila and Radio Constantine.

He participated in several national conferences and literary soirees and wrote multiple radio and television dramas.

Boukerzaza is the winner of prizes and honors, including the Prize for Professional Theater for his play ما تبقى من بريد الشهداء / What remains of the Martyrs’ Mail, awarded by the Ministry of Culture in 2014.

He has published several short story collections and novels, including شرفات الكلام / Balconies of Speech, الربيع يخجل من العصافير / The Spring is Ashamed of the Birds, ليل الغريب / The Stranger’s Night, رسائلي لابنتي / My Letters to My Daughter, and نشيد الفراشات / Anthem of Butterflies.

Boukerzaza published several works of crime fiction, including الأيادي السوداء / The Black Hands and ميراث الأحقاد / The Legacy of Hatred. Some of his novels were translated into French.

‘The Stranger’s Night’

Among his novels, The Stranger’s Night, which was reprinted in 2012, is especially notable. It is a contemporary narrative experience that pays great attention to Algeria’s ‘Black Decade,’ as it depicts the life of an Algerian broadcaster and writer on his tragic journey towards self-imposed exile, as a way of hiding from terrorist threats at the time. The narrator deals with being an intellectual, artist, journalist, and doctor in a crisis that has destroyed all the noble and moral values ​​of an apparently Muslim society, though he is secretly an expert at murder and all taboos. As the writer says through the hero’s mouth, “How can a journalist who fled blind terrorism find love on a plane? Shall we return from our exile to the homeland in defense of its soil and its future, and is it necessary for us to die in the homeland away from the exiles?”

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Latifa al-Harbaoui

Latifa al-Harbaoui

Al-Harbaoui graduated from the Center for Philosophy at the University of Bouzaréah in Algiers in 1995. She has published in the most important Algerian and has prepared and presented a number of radio programs.

She has written songs and plays for children and founded the “Algiers Singing Troupe” at the House of Culture in Biskra in 1995. Al-Harbaoui is the Algeria representative of the Arab Writers Association.

She has written a collection of short letters under the title رسائل الخفاش الأشقر / Letters of the Blond Bat, a poetry collection entitled شمس على مقاسي / A Sun in My Size, and a collection of short stories, قصاصات قلق / Worry Clippings.

She was honored on many occasions, including winning the second place in the poetry competition organized by the Union of Arab Writers and Intellectuals, where her poem was translated into English by the Egyptian writer Hassan Hegazy.

She was chosen as one of the hundred most influential personalities for three consecutive years (2018–2020) in the field of media, literature, and volunteer work by the Federation of Middle East Organizations for Rights and Freedoms. She was also part of a ‘list of inspiring women,’ a result of polls conducted by the Aster Groupe Foundation.

In late 2021, she published the book قريب من الأمام بركلة / Close to the Front with a Kick.

Al-Harbaoui’s ‘Worry Clippings’

Al-Harbaoui’s book Worry Clippings was published in 2017, and consists of short, intense flash texts based on paradoxes through which she tries to make a fresh start in order to come to terms with her human anxiety. These are, in fact, insomniac shreds of human concerns that disturbed Latifa al-Harbaoui and made her express them in such shocking depth, striking the reader in every single one of the texts.

Dr. Ghania Boudiaf wrote: “In these flash texts, the poetic intersects with the philosophical and the subjective with the objective. Despite the writer’s rebellion against the usual pattern of poetic writing, her texts were formulated with artistic precision based on deconstruction, reduction, and adaptation, expressing the state of anxiety and the crisis of the self, its fragmentation and disintegration in a society dominated by contradictions and paradoxes. This made her set out from a critical vision in which she explores reality with all its negatives and tragedies.”

“We cry so that the sea grows bigger,” writes Latifa al-Harbaoui in one of her short texts.

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Zakia Allal is an Algerian writer and radio presenter for literary programs who started writing in the mid-80s. She has published four short story collections, including the most recent Naked Veins (2014) and a novel, Returning to My Grave (2015), as well as articles and short stories in many Algerian and international newspapers and magazines. Zakia Allal has won several literary prizes, including more recently the 2020 Ammar Belahssen Prize.

Leonie Rau

One thought on “Six Algerian Novelists Whose Work Is Shaping Algerian Literature

  1. L’air du temps. Just interesting that all women writers wear the veil. Much to tell about where Algeria is heading as a country ad for women who don!t.

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